Advancing entrepreneurship in underserved communities

What is the Blackstone Inclusive Entrepreneurship Challenge?

Launched in 2017, the Blackstone Challenge is a three-year, $3 million program to fund organizations that recruit and support underserved entrepreneurs throughout Chicago. In the first year, eight organizations were selected to receive a total of $1 million in grant funding to develop innovative pilot programs to meet this goal.

In this next phase, the Blackstone Challenge will boost funding to organizations that demonstrated the most effective and sustainable programs, with an eye toward regional and national impact.

Why Inclusive Entrepreneurship?

Over the past six years, the Blackstone Charitable Foundation has supported new company formation and job creation by investing in entrepreneurship globally. Chicago is a global tech hub and the #1 tech spot of the future, but to combat issues of economic disparity, underserved entrepreneurs need greater access to resources and opportunities to help grow and scale their ventures.

Meet theCohort

  • Bethel New Life - $400,000

    Funding will allow Bethel New Life, an organization seeking to transform Chicago’s West Side communities, to expand its Business Innovation Technology program and create a new Design Thinking Institute that will bring technology training to community development organizations throughout Chicago.

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  • BLUE1647 - $450,000

     Funding will allow BLUE1647, an innovation center and business accelerator that fosters economic development, technology education, and workforce development, primarily for people of color, to implement BLUECONTINUITY, an effort to expand and tailor their course offerings to a wider community. Funding will also support BLUEPROCURE, a program to help minority and women-owned businesses secure procurement opportunities.

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  • Bunker Labs - $450,000

    Funding will allow Bunker Labs, an organization empowering military veterans to become leaders in entrepreneurship and innovation, to launch a fifty state expansion of Launch Lab Online, which allows veterans and military families to learn about entrepreneurship and develop their business at any time, from any place. Funding will also support CEOcircle, a cohort based program that provides additional resources to later-stage founders.

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  • Future Founders - $400,000

     Funding will allow Future Founders, an organization focused on inspiring the next generation of young entrepreneurs, to expand their Future Founders Residency, a program that fosters the development of diverse millennial entrepreneurs with one-on-one mentoring, growth coaches, skill-training workshops, and venture pitching.

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Every American, no matter where they are from, deserves the chance to get ahead. That means we need to make it easier – not harder – for small businesses to get off the ground, especially for those led by women, Veterans, immigrants and people of color in underserved communities. I’m pleased these investments will help support a diverse group of entrepreneurs in Chicagoland area, and I look forward to continuing my efforts to make economic justice a reality for all Americans.
– United States Senator Tammy Duckworth

History of the Program

  • Submission of Proposals

    Through an open RFP, proposals were accepted in early 2017. Please note: the application process is now closed.
  • Selection of Cohort

    8 organizations were selected for the first cohort, receiving a total of $1 million in grant funding. For more information on grantees, please see below.
  • Year 1 Activities

    Organizations will focus on deploying strategies to recruit and engage entrepreneurs from the target populations in their programs. Programs will officially launch in July 2017.
  • Year 2-3 Activities

    Four organizations from the original cohort were selected to receive a total of $1.7 million in two year grants to refine and expand their programs.

Cohort Activities

We will host regular convenings and networking events for the cohort to foster collaboration and the sharing of best practices to maximize the regional impact of Blackstone's investment. In addition, we will link the leadership of the cohort with the resources of Blackstone and the broader Chicago entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The ChicagoNEXT Inclusive Entrepreneurship Leadership Council

Meet the Leadership Council

Recent News

view all →

Four Chicago Startups get $1.7 Million to Boost Tech Diversity
Four Chicago startup and tech organizations will be awarded grants totaling $1.7 million over the next two years as part of the Blackstone Inclusive Entrepreneurship Challenge, an initiative run by the New York-based Blackstone Charitable Foundation and ChicagoNEXT, the tech-focused division of World Business Chicago.
Continue reading at Chicago Business Journal →
$1.7 Million Awarded for Next Phase of the Blackstone Inclusive Entrepreneurship Challenge
For the next two years, Bethel New Life, BLUE1647, Bunker Labs, and Future Founders will be awarded grants totaling $1.7 million to refine and expand their programs that support traditionally underserved entrepreneurs.
Continue reading at World Business Chicago →
Chicago’s First Inclusive Entrepreneurship Summit
ChicagoNEXT and the Blackstone Foundation corralled civic and corporate leaders from around the country to drive inclusive entrepreneurship.
Continue reading at World Business Chicagp →
Women, Veteran and Minority Entrepreneurs Across Chicago to get Boost from $1M Grant
A $1 million grant from the Blackstone Charitable Foundation to support entrepreneurs from underrepresented backgrounds in Chicago will go to major players 1871 and UI Labs as well as specialty groups Blue1647, Bunker Labs and i.c. stars.
Continue reading at Chicago Tribune →
Jimmy Odom joins ChicagoNext after leaving state government post
Jimmy Odom, the tech entrepreneur who resigned from a state government position earlier this month, has taken a new job touching the public sector.
Continue reading at Chicago Tribune →

Brought to You By The Blackstone Charitable Foundation

I am thrilled that the Blackstone Charitable Foundation is launching its first inclusive entrepreneurship program in my hometown. We hope that this program will serve as a model for other cities seeking to increase support and opportunities for entrepreneurs from all communities.
— Jon Gray, Global Head of Blackstone Real Estate

Blackstone Charitable FoundationWorld Business ChicagoChicagoNEXT

About the Blackstone Charitable Foundation

The Blackstone Charitable Foundation was founded at the time of Blackstone’s initial public offering in 2007 with substantial commitments from the Firm’s employees. Influenced by the enterprising heritage of the firm and its founders, The Blackstone Charitable Foundation is directing its resources and applying the intellectual capital of the firm to foster entrepreneurship in areas hardest hit by the global economic crisis. Through its investment expertise across several asset classes and geographies, Blackstone has a unique perspective on the global economy and a heightened understanding of how entrepreneurial activity is often the crucial catalyst in the growth of successful businesses, industries and communities.

Click here to learn more about the Blackstone Charitable Foundation.

About World Business Chicago/ChicagoNEXT

World Business Chicago is a public-private, non-profit partnership that drives inclusive economic growth and job creation, supports business, and promotes Chicago as a leading global city.

Contact Us

For all questions related to the program, please email